Long, drawn out sigh of relief

Yes friends. I’m here. And I finally snagged some Internet access from a coffee shop. It’s so fast, it hurts. Definitely beats the sand out of the 1-5 kb/s back in Iraq.

The next couple of posts will be from what I was writing in my final days in Iraq. So even though I’m here in the states, when I say “here” in these entries, I’m still talking about the war zone. Where I could, I already edited the posts to say “Iraq” and such, so as not to confuse you cats.

I’m taking it easy these first few days back. I’ve bought a car and a whole lot of clothes. I’m a pretty snazzy guy nowadays, if I do say so. Very metro, sans hair gel (sorry, still can’t get into that crap). Besides, with the cropped hair, there’s not much that can be done anyway. My bad, ladies.

Without further blah-blah-blahs, here’s reflective entry one:

***

Everyone is in such a hurry to prove how brilliant they are. They never take the time to see how they can help people. Status symbols, jokes, looks, cars, clubs, beer, sex, lipstick, shoes, tight pants…whatever, everyone is out for themselves. Everyone just waits for their turn to say their piece.

I wonder if we’ll eventually issue out slogans for the day, or if people will come up with a saying that presents their personality to the world in ten or less words. People will wait until some random, roving, reality-based-television-ish camera comes by and let loose with their saying. “I’d buy that for a dollar.” “Stay classy San Diego.” “Booya Ka-sha.”

They won’t interact or talk with anyone until the camera nears. They’ll be hollow shells, putting on the facade of socializing. Lights come on and bam! Instant extrovert. Then things settle down, the hands go back in the pockets and nothing. That’s sort of how Hollywood—our version of Mecca, a sort of cultural/spiritual center—is now.

And that’s not the tragedy. What sucks is that people wouldn’t care. They wouldn’t want anything other than the fake, plastic reality. They’d love the lie. They’d enjoy the emptiness. They would be so wrapped up in themselves and their own brand of persecution and problems, that they COULDN’T see others.

That’s sin. Not their actions, but that mindset—a constant, self cannibalizing cloud of selfishness and greed that blots out the light. The inability to see beyond one’s self. Buddhism is keen on avoiding this danger of self and makes beautiful strides to teach us to quiet ourselves to hear our surroundings.

One of my favorite books is “The Great Divorce” by CS Lewis. You won’t see it in a lot of evangelicals’ personal libraries because people don’t like its implications.

It puts out the notion that hell is just a bland existence, a dreary, rainy London neighborhood; where people are so self-absorbed, that they can’t see their misery. They can’t see anything but themselves. They don’t realize they’re in hell.

A group of them visits heaven, which is pure substance compared to their emptiness. Heaven is so vivid that the color and light hurt the eyes of the residents of hell. The grass pierces their feet. They can barely move the leaves of a tree. A pebble seems like a boulder. Their bodies are ghosts, gray and translucent.

Most of them are so offended and put off that they climb back into the bus that brought them to heaven (yes, a bus, just go with it) and wait to go back to hell. They’re angry that it’s so bright, angry that no one is there to meet them, angry that it hurts their feet to even walk.

They CHOOSE hell. They PREFER hell. They would rather chase after a drug, or a television series, or a video game, rather than focus on the substance of life. They trade truth for a lie.

Everywhere I look around here, I see the same attitudes. People are so selfish! I ain’t frikkin Mother Teresa either, I’m just saying.

Whether it’s ripping the government off, fudging property books, doing the adultery thing, harboring racist thoughts, stealing, abusing resources, fabricating documents, or whatever…people everywhere are just out for themselves, even in Iraq! Hell, we’re the supposed best and brightest of America, defending the virtuous and glorious free and righteous republic; and we do all that.

We choose to make the earth a little more like hell, full of deceit and corruption; instead of choosing to make earth a little more like heaven.

It’s free will. We choose it. We will it.

And it’s attitudes that shape it all. It’s from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks, the Scriptures say. Our thoughts and feelings pop into our minds and we choose to either cultivate them or move on to others. Be it anger, despair, resentment, compassion or love, we shape our attitudes like we shape our bodies—filling it with nutrients or junk.

Moreover, attitudes are eternal. Do you think that once everything is made right, God will force you to become another person? Hardly. He’ll allow you to choose where you want to go. If you want to get on the bus and leave, he’ll let you go. If you chose to be a selfish, whining bigot, he’ll respect your choice.

If you can’t stand to be around people, do you think you’ll magically love them once everything is made right? If you don’t give two sh*ts about suffering and injustice now, do you think there will be some switch that flips once God shows up?

As the great movie “Gladiator” puts it, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” Not in any sort of good-deed credit report, but in that the exercises we do through life will help shape our attitudes—who we are that’s carried into the kingdom.

And I suppose that’s what makes me so damned mad at myself for the time I’ve spent at war. In the midst of what could have been the most influential time in my life, I chose to gripe and let circumstances turn me in to a seething, bitter jerk.

I did the same thing at Cedarville, my alma matter. Sure it was an infuriating place, but I could have been more of a man about it. What good did bitching do? What good does it do now?

The tragedy of Iraq is you have 135,000 troops, the great many of whom just sit and wish they were back in the land of movies and fad diets, when they could be taking freedom and all those promises of America to the streets. Instead, we lock ourselves in our bases and count the days until football starts and Survivor spins up again.

###

About salemonz

Born in San Diego, Calif. Raised as a Navy Brat, I jumped ship and crossed over to the Army. Served as an enlisted journalist for a bunch of years, then helped the DoD figure out what the hell to do with social media. After the Army, now I drift down the river of life, trying not to be a jerk.

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